“Grab a bite tomorrow?”
“Sure, what time?”
“Great. See you then.”
Seems simple enough, two people getting together at the regular place for a bite at 7:00. Let us see what happens the next day.
Phone rings at 7:15. “Hello.”
“Hey man, where are you?”
“Heading out the door for work. Why?”
“Uh, we were grabbing a bite!”
“Ya at seven; it’s not even noon.”
Well, it seemed simple enough. The two failed to effectively communicate the simple idea about what time they would meet to eat. As a result, one arrived in the morning while the originator of the idea clearly intended to meet at the later 7:00. This little story may over simplify the complexities of effective communication, but if you think about it, how often have misunderstanding been as simple as this? Learning to communicate more effectively is one way leaders can build trust. That is why communication is the base facet of the Cornerstone of Trust.
Communication runs through all the qualities in the Cornerstone of Trust I introduced in November 2021 (Link here). Communicate consistently up, down, and across your organization. When communicating with your boss, or her boss, ensure you provide all the information they really need to support your work. While it is important to ensure your boss has all the information necessary to support your work, remember not to provide unnecessary details. Provide the right information at the right time to lighten your leader’s load.
Communicating down seems pretty easy. Gather the masses for a meeting and put out the word. Wait, send and email! While both of these options provide leaders with platforms to communication, they should never be the only conduit of information with your people. There are times you need to communication one-on-one with people. There are other times that mass communication is necessary. Follow up with your subordinate key leaders to answer any question they have. Too often, leaders think communication is telling other people information. Listening is also an important communication skill. It provides you more information, allowing you to make better decisions. It shows those who follow you, you care. We will discuss more on listening later.
Communicating across ensures your team’s efforts complement the efforts of the other teams in the organization. Pillars, silos, and bubbles exist in many organizations that impede peer-to-peer communication. As a result, many efforts are duplicated by systems that are not comparable. Improve your communication with the leaders around you by investing in your relationships with them. That does not mean you have to become drinking buddies or join their country club. You do need to create a relationship that allows easy flow of information possible.
Earlier, I said listening was an important communication skill. In order to listen, you must be present. Back in the day…I learned the technique of Management by Walking Around. The thesis was that if managers walked around the plant floor, employees would recognize the opportunity to approach and speak to them about issues. While there is some validity in this theory, leaders gain more information by asking appropriate, probing questions. Asking questions works well whether you are communicating with your boss, a peer, or someone you lead. It shows others you are paying attention and that you care about them and their message.
Appropriate, probing questions are the key. Appropriate questions build on the information you received from the person talking, even if it is via text message or email. While the pair in the opening dialog asked questions about getting together, the questions were not appropriate because they failed to elicit the required information for the pair to meet at the same time and place for their common purpose. Appropriate questions fill in those information gaps.
Probing questions dig deeper into an idea. Use these types of questions when brainstorming or someone shares a suggestion or introduces a solution to a problem. These questions are ideal to aid problem-solving and focus your team. As a police interviewer, I learned to ask more than questions which could be answered yes or no. Eventually, my favorite questions started with, “Tell me more about (what ever it was we were discussing). I found bringing that type of question into my relationships helped improve communication because people knew I was listening and that I cared about their idea. Later, if another idea was selected as the course of action, people who presented alternate ideas still knew their input and ideas were valuable.
Be honest in your communication inside and outside your organization. How often have we heard the public official, charged with an accusation, or appointed to look into a wrong doing respond with, “No comment.” The result of such non comments is suspicion. More trust is created by saying you are looking into matters and will share appropriate information as it becomes available. This is true whether you are facing a crowd of raucous reporters or irritated employees.
When you do speak, do all that you can to ensure what you say is true. Sometimes facts change. New information becomes available. If you’re as honest as you can be up front, most people will understand.
Honest communication includes having those tough conversations with people about performance and other disappointments. Often, leaders project ill will on the actions of those they lead. Few people come to work, join a club, or participate in a team expecting and trying to fail. No, they want to do well. Sometimes sitting down and pointing out where their performance is lacking is all that is necessary to turn around someone’s efforts. You might find they are doing something on purpose because that is what they thought was the right way. Perhaps no one ever took the time to show them how to do the thing correctly.
Recently I was reviewing employee records. I found one file that lacked lots of information. The person started with us as an intern. At the end of our fiscal year, we had some funding left in our salary line, so I kept him on as an employee to work on a project. We failed to attract an intern for the summer and asked our temporary worker to stay on and increased his responsibilities. As a result, we failed to train this person for the job they were doing. That was why there was no documentation of the training in the file.
I once worked for Thomas Spencer. He eventually became the commanding general for the 42nd Infantry Division. He shared a model for communicating with the acronym TIPS. TALK to your people about things in their life. Keep them INFORMED about what is happening in the organization. Be PREDICTABLE in your reactions to good and bad news. Be SENSITIVE to their needs.
When you work to communicate better, people will tell you things you never would have known otherwise. People will pay more attention to what you say because they know you value them as people. Remember, there is more to communication than broadcasting your message. Listening to others is just as important. It shows you care. You know if people understood what you said. You gain new information to make better decisions. As your communication ability improves, your trust score increases. Learn to communication better to develop trust.
Beebe, S. & Masterson, J. (2006) Communicating in small groups: Principles and practices. (8th Ed.) Pearson Education Inc. Boston, MA
Bratton, W. with Knobler, P. (1998). Turnaround: How America’s top cop reversed the crime epidemic. Random House. New York, NY
Maxwell, J (2005). The 360 degree leader. 2 Best-Selling Books in 1 Volume Edition. Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN
Spencer, T. (unknown). Personal communications with author.
(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr